Can soccer headgear reduce the risk of concussions?
Nicholas Messina plays soccer for John Carroll Catholic High School in Birmingham. He’s practicing as the new season gets underway.
Last fall, Nicholas got a concussion while playing for another soccer team. It happened after an opposing player tried to steal the ball away from him, and Nicholas fell on his head.
“I was confused, very confused,” said Messina. “I didn’t know my surroundings very well. I had a headache. I had a bad headache on the back of my head where I hit the ground.”
Sarah Harrell is playing junior varsity soccer for Hoover High School. She got a concussion while playing for a local soccer club several months ago.
“We were running 1v1 and I did like a move around her,” said Harrell. “And she came in with her hand and hit me straight in the face from the front, and I flew back, and landed on my head.”
Sarah’s mother, Lisa, runs C.R.A.N.K., a Pelham soccer training facility for kids. She watched Sarah hit the ground and go limp.
“Because this was such a dirty play, and we see it too often,” said Harrell. “Really scary at how hard she got hit.”
Soccer head injuries rise nearly 1,600%
As soccer has risen in popularity, so have the number of injuries.
The study found the annual rate of head injuries, including concussions, increased nearly 1,600 percent between 1990 and 2014.
Soccer players between 12 and 17 years old were more likely to get concussions than younger patients.
Aggressive play a likely contributor
Researchers determined that soccer’s popularity, growing awareness of concussion dangers, and passage of state concussion regulations, may be behind the increase in the number of cases of concussions that actually get reported.
But the study also determined that “more aggressive play” in the 12 to 17-year-old age group is a “likely contributor.”
“I think kids are bigger and faster now, and as they get bigger and stronger, they get more aggressive too,” said Kimberly Messina, Nicholas’ mother.
The controversy over soccer headgear
Most soccer players don’t wear protective headgear — but that could change in the future.
The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health is conducting a study of up to 3,000 high school soccer players to determine whether headgear can help reduce the number of concussions in soccer. It’s the first scientific study of its kind.
And while you might think wearing some kind of head protection is better than nothing, soccer headgear is actually controversial.
“A lot of times with concussions, you have the rotational force that causes a concussion. The headgear that soccer players wear doesn’t help prevent that anymore than not wearing anything,” said Chris Carter, M.D., a family and sports medicine physician with Brookwood Baptist Health Primary Care Network at Grand River in Leeds.
“It may actually lead to more aggressive play, more aggressive tackling, more aggressive heading, and put the athlete at risk of having worse concussions,” said Ricardo Colberg, M.D., a non-surgical orthopaedic and sports medicine physician with Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center in Pelham.
In the meantime, Dr. Colberg said here’s how to reduce a soccer player’s chances of getting a concussion: Referees should enforce the rules and players should learn proper playing techniques, follow the rules of the game and strengthen their neck muscles.
“And if you have strong neck muscles the theory is that you can absorb the impact, minimize the shaking you can have in your head, and therefore minimize the shaking of the brain inside the head,” Dr. Colberg said.
The University of Wisconsin study will be wrapped up late next year.
The results may impact millions of soccer-playing kids across the country and here in Alabama.